An alarming number of people with high cholesterol have stopped or changed their cholesterol medication due to an ABC program that aired in October.

A report released today by the National Heart Foundation of Australia shows an alarming number of people with high cholesterol have stopped or changed their cholesterol medication as a direct result of an ABC Catalyst program.

The two part October program questioned the widespread use of anti-cholesterol drugs known as statins and commented on the link they played between heart disease and cholesterol, which caused a backlash from doctors and specialists who say they are clinically proven to cut the risk of heart disease.

The charity surveyed 1094 Australians who have been prescribed cholesterol medication, commonly known as statins, by their health professional to understand the impact the program has had on their medication routine.

The survey showed after watching the program:

• 29 per cent of people were initially confused, worried or scared that they were taking unnecessary medication
• 25 per cent of people saw their GP or health professional to discuss their medication
• 22 per cent changed their medication habits, either by stopping, stopping then restarting or reducing the number of medication taken
• 12 per cent started taking natural remedies
• 9 per cent completely stopped taking their medication since watching, reading or hearing about the show

Heart Foundation’s National CEO Dr Lyn Roberts says the organisation has always had serious concerns about information presented in the Catalyst program and now there is strong data to confirm the level of confusion caused within the community.

“What is most worrying is that of the people who have stopped taking their medication…almost half of those didn’t consult their GP, and one in four have previously had a heart event, such as a heart attack or stroke.

“This is extremely frightening as these are the people who are most at risk of having another heart attack or stroke, and they may not survive another one.

“It should be clear that statins are life saving for people who have already had a heart attack, and people should not go off their medication without seeing their GP.”

Heart Foundation’s National Director of Cardiovascular Health Dr Robert Grenfell added if you look at the survey results as representative of the whole population, there are potentially 55,000 Australians who have stopped their medication as a direct result of the show.

“The frightening reality is, if many of these people stay off their medication, we could potentially be looking at as many as 2000 or more heart attacks and strokes over the next five years and that’s a very conservative estimate,” he says.

Dr Roberts concluded that this is a major public health issue that governments can’t ignore.

“It’s encouraging to see that many people went to their doctor to have a discussion, and we hope that the new government will look at providing appropriate incentives to help GPs and practices undertake more vascular risk assessments,” she says.

Did you change your mind on cholesterol medication from hearing or seeing the Catalyst program?